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Jiba Anderson’s Comic Book Journey to the Smithsonian

Heroes Priniciples of African Greatness
Heroes: Principles of African Greatness” is featured at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Alum Jiba Molei Anderson’s (BFA 94) childhood love of comic books has led him to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Anderson’s graphic novel, The Horsemen: Book of Olorun, has been included in the Museum’s installation, Heroes: Principles of African Greatness.” The exhibition, featuring nearly 50 artworks from more than 40 artists, “…tells the story of key heroic principles and people in Africa’s arts and history, and it invites visitors to consider the core values of leadership — justice, integrity, generosity, and empathy — embodied in the art. Each artwork in the exhibition is paired with a historic African person, a hero in history,’ who embodies the thematic value shown in the artwork.”

It is a wild dream,” said Anderson about the inclusion of his novel. My plan for my thesis in grad school was to write and illustrate a book of African superheroes and tie it to African mythology. As I designed the characters, I thought, this is too cool to be my graduate thesis.”

That work became The Horseman, the first title for Griot Enterprises, the publishing company and visual communication studio he founded in 1999. The Horsemen is the saga of the Orisha returning to Earth and possessing seven people to save humanity from itself. 

I’m so happy that parents buy my books for their kids,” said Anderson. What helps with the Horseman is that I represent the world in the books. It is my superhero universe through an African-American lens. It lends itself to be political, to be cosmic, and diverse. Many of the characters I create are influenced by my friends and reflect their culture.”

The Influence of Detroit

Growing up in Detroit in a family of artists, Anderson was introduced to comic books by his father. I was resolute about my career path since I was ten years old,” said Anderson. My friends in high school convinced me I needed to be in graphic design. That’s why I went to the University of Michigan. I took an illustration course and wound up making up my major, majoring in photography and illustration.” At the Art and Design School, Anderson says he created his own space and received great support from faculty and his fellow students. 

Anderson returns to Detroit regularly. The arts community in Detroit is a part of my DNA, specifically the Detroit Techno scene and the Detroit poetry scene. It’s a close-knit artist community, one that I have been part of since I attended U‑M through now, and it was key in my development as an artist and working with people. We were all in that Motown cauldron creating together,” he said.

Launching Griot Enterprises

After graduating from U‑M with his BFA in Illustration and Photography, Anderson moved to Chicago to pursue his 1998 Master’s Degree in Visual Communication from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After trying to get various projects accepted by various media companies, Anderson and his friends saw the opportunity to create their own company to publish and promote their work, leading to the creation of Griot Enterprises. 

Since starting Griot Enterprises, Anderson has had numerous one-person and group shows, art directed and published over 20 books, including JBD: The Devil’s Due, the 4 Pages 16 Bars: A Visual Mixtape anthology series, The Dark Kingdom, and the upcoming Dante: A Divine Comedy written by fellow U- M alum Ellen Wetmore. He has been invited to speak about his work and the representation of race and culture at various institutions. 

It’s a tough gig, but I love it. This is the path I chose at the age of 10. At 51, I’m glad I chose this path. There are challenges, but I made this work so far. As Chris Rock says, When you have a career, you can’t wait, and when you have a job, you can’t wait until it’s over.’ I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

The Horsemen The Book of Olorun
Jiba Molei Anderson, Horsemen: The Book of Olorun, 2010; published in Chicago by Griot Enterprises, Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art

For information concerning Jiba Molei Anderson and Griot Enterprises, visit www​.gri​o​ten​ter​prises​.com and www​.jibamolei​.com.

Story by Jen Hogan.